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November 12, 2021

Saint Varnava Nastic's Homily on the Episcopal Office (Spoken at his Ordination as Bishop of Khvostansky)

By Saint Varnava Nastic, Bishop of Khvostansky

(Delivered on August 19, 1947)

Dear brothers and sisters!

The height of honor, according to Christ's measure, is given to people in accordance with the height of their readiness for sacrifice. Those who give little will receive little honor. The one who sacrifices much will receive much honor. Those who accept the greatest honor among men make the greatest sacrifice through this. For Christ, according to His own words, first had to go through Golgotha in order to enter later into His glory. And how can people avoid this criterion when the immortal God Himself obeyed it? Those who flee from sacrifice are also fleeing from the only honor under this sun that is of God, for which it is useful to fight. When our Lord Jesus Christ sent His apostles into the world, He established sacrifice as a program and a way of their life. And only by their readiness for the apostolic sacrifice did the Galilean fishermen receive the apostolic honor. This is the standard set at the foundation of Christ's Church, has invariably remained the main one at all times of its history, and will remain so until the end of the age. High honor in Christ's Church means high sacrifice.

The Holy Bishops' Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, headed by His Holiness Patriarch Gabriel of Serbia, led by the Holy Spirit, chose my unworthiness as a bishop of the Church of Christ. And by that choice they condemned me to the sacrifice of Christ's Golgotha. And by condemning me to that greatest sacrifice, they showed me the greatest honor that can be shown to a mortal man. And at this hour and from this place, with the insufficient words of the human language, from the bottom of my heart, I thank His Holiness the Patriarch and the native Serbian bishops for the honor of Golgotha indicated to me. All I can say, and more of what I can say: I want to joyfully ascend my Golgotha and I will never exchange this honor for any other honor under God's sun.

The episcopal ministry is the sacrifice of Golgotha, for the episcopal ministry is the apostolic ministry, and the Lord said to the apostles: “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39). And the cup that the Lord drank and the baptism with which He was baptized were nothing more than the cup of Golgotha and the bloody baptism of His own blood.

But to the Son of God, in this world every day was one terrible Golgotha, and His cup of honey completely disappeared in the endless cup of bile, which He willingly drank. And His words were fulfilled: the cup that He drank was drunk by His apostles, and they were baptized with the same baptism with which He was baptized. Of the twelve, eleven shed their blood. But just as for their Teacher, for whom not only the last day of His life was one terrible Golgotha, so it was for the disciples. It lasted from the day when, for the sake of the Jews, they were gathered in one dark Jerusalem room, until the hour when they sealed their days with their blood. And as it was with the apostles, it was with the bishops. Who will count the graves of the martyr bishop's bones scattered on the ground from the Apostolic times to the times of the barbaric 20th century, and who will measure the deep sea of bishop's blood, in which the countless lives of the archpastors of Christ's Church have drowned?! And just as for the Son of God for whom Good Friday was only the last and most fearful in the series of His daily Golgotha's, so also the apostles, with their last bloody sacrifice only completed the number of all the countless tribulations of their apostolic life, and so also the bishop is condemned to be ready for every hour not only for this last and greatest sacrifice, but also for all those great and small sacrifices and for all those great and small deaths, of which the fabric of his days was woven. Yes, for the bishops are those who, as the apostles once did, left their father and their mother, and their wife, and children, and their home, and their blessing, who denied themselves and took up their cross and followed Christ. This is the basic formula of episcopal life, and from it, like a river from its source, his daily dying and his daily sacrifices are poured out.

The bishop does not have his own personal joy and does not have his own personal sorrow. The joy of the Church is his personal joy, and the sorrow of the Church is his personal sorrow. The defeat of the Church is his personal defeat, but also the victory of the Church is his personal triumph. Any blasphemy against God falls on the bishop as a personal insult, and any insult against the Son of God is as an insult to him. Every injustice must touch his soul, and every violence must arouse his righteous anger.

Every orphan tear must fall on his face, and every wounded heart must cry out in pain through his mouth. Who will do good and the bishop will not rejoice, and who will do evil and the bishop will not be sad? The bishop experiences Golgotha when he sees how people follow mortal people, and turn their faces away from the immortal God. He experiences Golgotha when he sees how the seed of the Gospel falls on the road, and the birds of the air abduct him, and how it falls into thorns, and there the thorns drown him. Yes, the bishopric is Golgotha, for the bishop must put the truth above life, and we know that many times in history, following the truth meant a death sentence.

Do I need to remind you of various examples of episcopal sacrifices? Can one list all those immortal men of the Church who with their blood strengthened her foundation and who erected her vaults from the marble of their martyr's bones? It would take me time, and keep you here for a long time. But is this really necessary for us, the pious children of the Dabro-Bosnian diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church? Is it necessary, in order to show the person of a bishop-martyr, to fly through space and time, when one such person shone before our own eyes in our day?

This is the person of our Metropolitan Peter (Zimonich).

We, brethren, still hear in our ears the wonderful archpastoral words of Metropolitan Peter: "That brother is dear, who was faithful!" But he not only spoke, he did. He gave his love to the right and to the left. And, brothers, what happened? What gift was given to him in return? For love, they presented him with a camp, and for brotherhood and unity they sent him to a damp land. Rejoice, blessed soul of Metropolitan Peter! You have become like Christ and His apostles. You made the greatest sacrifice in this world in order to receive the greatest honor in the next world.

And therefore, although I know the weakness of my soul, I am not afraid that my leg will tremble on the thorny path of Golgotha, which I entered today. For whenever she wanted to flinch, the lightness and warmth of these countless examples of Christ's heroes will restore her confidence and strength.

In my first archpastoral word, brothers and sisters, I want to give you, Christ-loving children of this Church, whose bishop I have become today, some advice. Arm yourself, brothers and sisters, with spiritual weapons, for the Church of Christ is waging one terrible war throughout the world today. This war of the Church is not a war for the positions of earthly power and strength, but a war for the salvation of human souls, a struggle to pull them out of the dark and deadly embrace of Satan and bring them into the good embrace of the Heavenly Father. This struggle did not begin today or yesterday. It is as old as the human race itself. But this struggle has never been as severe as it is today, for today wealth and power have seduced human souls. Yes, the war with the spirits of evil in the air is what the Church is doing today, and not a war with the political parties of this world. For Christ's Church has little to do with which party will take over the world, but it has a lot to do with love, justice and truth taking over the world. For until these three take possession, the world will never be conquered. I rely, brothers, on your love for the Savior and on our faith in God. I hope that in this battle it is not you who will lose, but your enemy, the devil. But do not forget that this battle can only be won with the weapon of the cross.

Sacrifices great and small. Do not forget that you are the descendants of the Kosovar prince who sacrificed the earthly in order to receive the heavenly; do not forget that you are children of a people who have nothing great that they would not have acquired at the cost of a great sacrifice. And therefore, if in any of you there is a desire to flee from sacrifice, let him transform this desire today, for a holy Transfiguration, into a desire to acquire the gospel crown of victory by the gospel sacrifice.

Thank you, brothers and sisters, that today you offered God the sacrifice of prayer for blessing for my forthcoming labors.

Thanks also to my brethren the priests, who today, together with me, brought a bloodless sacrifice to the Lord and prayed to Him that He would give me new strengths for my new responsibilities.

And our Lord, Who through the greatest sacrifice gave us the greatest victory, let him grant victory to our Patriarch and to the entire army of our holy Church, which in Christ alone has a single desire and which is guided only by the thought of one God, and let him grant victory to His Orthodox Church, a great and glorious victory, a victory over all her enemies. Amen.